I'm a pretty hard working guy. I work 18.5 hours a week at my primary career as an administrator at the local county council, a further average of 27 hours at a pub/restaurant, and am about to start a 3 hour a week college course with added homework probably resulting in 6 hours total. That adds up to an average of 51.5 hours of working every week. Now factor in driving time, which I reckon works out about 6.5 hours, and that's 58 hours gone to the pursuit of money and education, with the not included lunch breaks at job one resulting in a total of 59.5 hours.
Then, factor in the 7.5 hours of sleep I get on average a night, and you have a total of 112 hours lost. That is now exactly two thirds of my time gone. Then you have time spent eating; around 5 hours if you include coffee stops, obligatory face time with family and friends; a further 21 hours, and 2 hours and 20 minutes spent smoking, and that leaves me a grand total of...wait a sec... around 140.3 hours, leaving 27.7 hours for general travel within the house, extra social time, bathroom breaks, and of course, gaming.
The funny thing about being an 80's child is that we were probably one of the first generations where a good proportion of our male numbers grew up with gaming. Dad probably had a Master System or Nes or something else, and naturally, we played too. It became engrained in our daily routines, an escape from the woes of reception/kindergarten, primary/elementary school, and secondary/high school, and would later become an aversion to homework in sixth form and college/university. A time when, similar to television, nothing else has to matter for a time of between half an hour to three hours if you're properly into it, and it doesn't matter that that assignment is shitty and due tomorrow, or that that fire alarm is ringing, as well as your mobile and your landline because your parents need to tell you that your sister is going out with "that guy" again and they need you to keep tabs on her Facebook page.
Anyway, the point is that for myself and a good number of my age group, games are not just the murder simulators or the shouting matches at people who don't speak your language because they're better than you at this or that; they're a functional tool, a way of not completely switching yourself off, but not exactly being in the room at the time without having to resort to CSI: Miami or Holby City or any of that other televised silliness. And with this lifelong experience of playing games comes an ability to switch off overthinking and reason, and simply jump in and do things. The way I always describe it; it's like letting the autopilot take over without any of the lack of the involvement.
Some games are better than others for this. Frantic high-level Wow questing has always looked rather stressful to me, and I've never seen anyone truly look Zen when playing Counter-Strike: Source, but then I think to some of my preferences for the post-work switch off, and I begin to think that these games probably wouldn't work for others.
My primary example would be the Codemasters racing games. I feel very comfortable with a controller in hand, idly sloping down the narrow roads of the overpriced Monte Carlo DLC in Dirt 3, or once again giving the destruction derby in GRID another go online. Because I grew up with Sega Rally on the Saturn and the like, a large part of me can switch off and destress as I gymkhana the hell out of seven dudes I've never met from Germany.
And yet other racing games do not reach me in this way. Forza 3 does to an extent, but I've always thought Codemasters nailed it because their primary influence was the sixteen year old Saturn game I cherished as an eight year old. Maybe F1 2010 doesn't quite reach that level just yet, as I'm only three rounds in, and compared to the other Codemasters series, it's a largely different undertaking, and yet by the time I get to July in my first racing season, I think things might be very cosy. So even as I fly upside down after glancing a rock in Kenya, I know I can simply Prince of Persia my ass out of the situation, learn from my mistake, and complete the course with a personal best time and a lazy smile on my face.
Although I consider racing games to be the type of game where, proportionally to the gaming population, I am generally better than average, I also take a lot of comfort in select FPS's. You know, the things designed to place you in the shoes of some lone desperado in a less than desirable situation, with all kinds of hiccups, targets and stresses along the way.
And yet, probably one of the games superiorly designed with this is mind is perhaps one of the most relaxing to me, and as I state in an earlier set of blogs, is the game I have spent the most time with in all my life. That game is Left 4 Dead 2, a game designed so that your survival and success purely relies on three other people you may or may not have ever met.
I first got Left 4 Dead 2 on launch day. It was the tenth game I ever got for PC after finally caving in to my university housemates pressuring me to get a gaming rig. Until then, I wouldn't have called myself a PC gamer; I was an Xbox 360 owner with a nice PC. One month in and that was all changed. The housemate in question was gone in order to pursue an alternate career in medicine, and so our only point of contact was in a deserted mall, or a swamp, or New Orleans, or a theme park, and we couldn't have wished for anywhere better.
After beating the campaigns, we embraced the Versus mode (which is where to date, I have spent 99% of my time with the game). It was stressful at first, as it was just us two and then two strangers on a team. These other two would often prove to be self serving and rather useless, but over time, our retinue built up into a clan/steam group of around 20 regular players, all of which we'd be happy to have at our side. We'd laugh, take the piss, die, blame each other, but generally win and laugh some more. Two of those strangers, despite having never met them, I would now consider to be good friends, with whom I have been through thick and thin, and their presence helped me through a difficult time in my final year of university as I struggled with the course. It saddens me that as enthusiasm (on their part and mine) dwindles, we may not all be the group we once were, only getting together in twos for the odd game we both happen to have with a co-op mode. Myself and forementioned friend are having a whale of a time with Dead Island for the moment. So my conclusion is this; it could be just the zombies, or maybe knowing that someone fun, decent and reliable has your back makes a game more fun and relaxing. I think both.
A final thought: If LocoRoco doesn't destress you, there is no hope for you, you ticking time bomb.
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